Political Humor and Its Reverberations

People are divided on whether political humor benefits the public, noting either that comedy helps us to see the truth, or that it makes us cynical. Culture specialist Iain Ellis observes that while politicians fabricate positive self-images, comedy unveils politicians’ flaws, thus encouraging the public to engage in political issues. But Ph.D. student Ramon Lopez points out that political satire, such as Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show, uses the straw man method to simplify politicians’ views. Columnist Stephen Marche furthers that, besides using the straw man approach, satire “delights in tearing down institutions” (Marche 165). Through highlighting politicians’ bad qualities, comedy escalates people’s distrust toward the government. However, while most satire manifests this adverse effect by attacking politicians, some political comedy creatively makes fun of people’s hilarious reaction to politicians’ flaws. This type of humor, identified by philosopher Simon Critchley, “liberates the will and the desire” (Cricthley 126) of audiences, showing them their own mistakes. Through challenging audiences’ perceptions about political satire, such humor, despite calling attention to politicians’ flaws, also encourages the public to reflect on their own behaviors. For instance, Aziz Ansari’s SNL routine counters discrimination by joking about people who are too excited about Trump’s racism, and Samantha Bee’s Full-Frontal ridicules women who march only because they like the knitted hats, inspiring women to reflect on their marching. Even if these routines use straw men to make their points, true political humor not only unmasks politicians’ flaws, but also unveils the public’s flaws, thereby fortifying the public to pursue political change.

Political humor, as its name suggests, delves into civic affairs. It seeks to investigate and reveal the concealed truth of politicians through joking about them. While the realm of politics always entails complicated relationships, American culture specialist Iain Ellis discerns a network among politicians, media, and the public. He recognizes that politicians connive with mainstream media to make themselves appear likeable (Ellis 154). By showcasing their appealing qualities, politicians achieve a comical profile that the public can endorse. On the other hand, Ellis claims that political comedy seeks to discover the hidden flaws behind politicians’ endeavors to craft perfect self-images. As comedy “unmasks, parades, and ridicules those efforts,” (Ellis 154) a different, and often ugly face of politicians is revealed. Through this revelation, political comedy offers the public information that politicians and mainstream media sometimes overlook. “In representing the interests of the common man, in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 155). Political humor, targeting politicians, bravely discloses their flaws. By serving audiences with a mix of laughter and truth, political comedy attracts the public, arming them with information to powerfully respond to politicians’ flaws.

However, despite its role in empowering the public with respect to politicians, political satire often uses the straw man method, which weakens and attacks opponents’ points to shape its arguments. Indeed, political humor gives the public fascinating jokes to illustrate politicians’ stupidity, and the straw man method is an inevitable part of its joking. But Ph.D. student of political theory Ramon Lopez notes that “Comedic straw men … degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). By using the straw man, political humor can oversimplify politicians’ refined ideas. Even one of America’s most popular comedians Jon Stewart possesses this problem. In his Daily Show “Chaos in Bulls**t Mountain,” Stewart argues that Mitt Romney, a 2012 presidential candidate, does not care for the economic realities of poor people. In a segment of his show, Stewart ridicules a tape in which Romney complains the poor’s distrust toward his policies (Stewart 03:17-03:44). However, Stewart only plays a tiny slice of the tape (Stewart 03:45-03:48) showing nothing of Romney’s complete thoughts but his complaint. While Romney’s rant is questionable, he should have reasoning for his complaint, and that arbitrary cut of the tape blocks the audiences’ access to that reasoning. As a result, comedy such as the Daily Show fails to give the public the comprehensive thought system behind politicians’ flaws.

Furthermore, most political satire like Jon Stewart’s leads the public to distrust government by simply denying politicians. Columnist Stephen Marche claims that “Satire was a mirror in which viewers discovered everybody’s face but their own; its pleasure is the pleasure of othering” (Marche 165). Such satire creates narcissism among audiences, and those listeners, while delighted to see the awful sides of others, cannot reflect on themselves. Accompanied with the straw man method, political satire will pose dramatic damage to the public. “Chaos in Bulls**t Mountain” proves this idea further. Besides his unethical representation of Romney’s flaws, Jon Stewart also criticizes entitlement policy for being ineffective. However, this criticism does not encourage the public to contemplate how that policy can be improved. While in Crossfire interview, Stewart claims that he “holds [his idea] to be much more important … as a citizen” (Crossfire 06:56-07:00), he deeply affects the public by the disparaging words he imposes on political acts. Through claiming its absurdity, Stewart drains people’s belief toward government.

While most satire, such as the Daily Show, damages politics by simply deriding politicians, some political comedy benefits the public by also pointing out the public’s mistakes. This comedy, or true comedy, does more than just revealing politicians’ flaws. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “a true joke … has to do more than release tension … it has to change the situation” (Critchley 125), true political comedy changes the situation by broadcasting the public’s irrational reactions toward politicians’ flaws. This humor lets the public reexamine themselves, correcting their mistaken behaviors through its pungent comic bits. Aziz Ansari’s SNL stand-up is a prime example of true humor. In this show, Ansari speaks against president Trump’s racism, but he specifically pokes fun at people who only voted for Trump to enable their racism. His contemptuous parody of racists – who seem to feel that “we don’t have to pretend like we’re not racist anymore!” (Ansari 02:40-02:50) – subverts racists’ privilege. Accounted for by Critchley’s incongruity theory, humor, by surprising audiences, can not only change their thoughts, but also their actions. While audiences expect Ansari to explicitly mock Trump, Ansari’s sudden assault on public expectation provokes profound introspection. “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley 126). By mocking racists’ flaws, Ansari effectively attacks discrimination, motivating the public to contemplate their reactions to Trump’s presidency. Thus, in eviscerating the public’s inappropriate responses to politicians’ problems, true comedy can hold a mirror up to the public, thereby engaging them to adjust their behaviors.

Taking everything into consideration, true political humor’s ability to change how the public understands themselves circumvents the straw man fallacy. Indeed, Ansari’s SNL show portrays racists as brainless people, ridiculing them without looking for why they developed such racism. But since Ansari encourages the public to reflect on themselves by challenging their views about racism, the straw man here is quite benign. Samantha Bee, in her show Full-Frontal, has a worse straw man problem than Ansari, as she shows multiple shortened clips to support her arguments. Bee points out that Trump is frustrated by the women’s march after his inauguration. Then, as she plays cut version of Kellyanne Conway’s comment on the march, Bee oversimplifies Conway’s discourse. By ridiculing her remark that Trump is “uplifting and unifying” (Bee 02:03-02:09), Bee depicts Trump as “uplifting” a woman’s skirt. While this joke has obvious straw man fallacy, she also deals with white women’s flaws during the march, joking that, “All you have to do to get white women to show up to a protest is to give them a craft” (Bee 01:35-01:40). By poking fun at these women, Bee engages the public in legitimately fighting for their rights rather than treating the march as a trendy event. As a result, though the straw man poses a pitfall for true political comedy such as Full Frontal, it can be neutralized by the humor’s power to inspire public reflection.

The above arguments about political humor apply to American culture, but we may consider whether they can also be addressed throughout the world. Serbia’s “laughtivism” (McGraw & Warner 148) seems to disagree with the point that exclusively deriding politicians harms the public. This movement thoroughly aimed at the long-disliked president, terminating Serbia’s autocracy followed by his resignation. On the other hand, during the Egyptian uprising, Bassem Youssef’s show proves that mocking politicians can be effective in the short term. But he did not promote the public to reflect on themselves, only inciting their distrust toward the president. As people were satisfied with their new leader, the show was shut down. What if Youssef sparked public introspection? This is the question worth thinking about when we try to answer if political comedy benefits the public from other parts of the world by mirroring their behaviors.

Works Cited

“Aziz Ansari Stand-Up Monologue – SNL.” YouTube, uploaded by Saturday Night Live, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whde50AacZs.
“Chaos on Bulls**t Mountain – The Entitlement Society.” Comedy Central, uploaded by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 19 Sept. 2012, http://www.cc.com/video-playlists/vwstqp/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-bullshit-mountain/ymemxt.
Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?” Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.
Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, www. popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.
Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, www. thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.
Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.
McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Humor Code Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?” Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.
“Who March the World? Girls.” YouTube, uploaded by Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, 25 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pEcvteQo9g.

 

Acknowledgement

Most courtesy of AWP program director and my instructor Dr. Karen Gocsik, who gave me wholesome feedback to guide me through revising the drafts, preventing me from pitfalls of making arguments. I appreciate curriculum coordinator Sarah Baker for correcting minor citation errors and affirming the final draft during community office hour. I am grateful for my mentor Sarah Ardell for checking the weakest paragraph in meeting sessions. I also thank my groupmates Oscar and Shuli for enriching me through common reader response and group conference. These peers facilitate me a lot in organizing the argument points.
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How Does Humor Fight Against Stereotypes?

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© Kate Copeland

Humor is able to make people laugh. But when used strategically, it can also eliminate stereotypes. Journalist Mary O’Hara, supported by experts from different fields, notices humor’s immense power to actively counterbalance bigotry (O’Hara 106). She postulates that humor can bring new ideas to society and correct mistaken stereotypes. However, psychologist Gil Greengross disagrees with O’Hara, proposing that whether comedy can eliminate stereotypes depends largely on the context of audiences (Greengross 144). While philosopher Simon Critchley admits that shared context is important, he concurs with O’Hara by applying incongruity theory, which states that humor changes people’s view through surprising them. He uses this theory to explain how humor reverses the audiences’ perception of stereotypes. Finally, while comedian Negin Farsad employs Critchley’s positions to shift people’s views about Muslims, she adds a more interesting interpretation of her pursuit. “What makes comedy so effective is that if you’re making them laugh along the way, they’re going to listen to the deeper cut stuff” (Farsad 13). Denying Greengross, she confirms O’Hara that humor can earn people’s trust, and eventually defeat stereotypes.

As social affairs journalist Mary O’Hara observes, humor can counter malicious stereotypes by conveying new ideas (O’Hara 105). To certify this observation, she offers a collection of comedians and scholars. For example, social activist and comedian Josie Long believes “Satire is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” (O’Hara 106). This belief signifies that through satire, humor can balance the feelings of all the individuals, including those who are labeled with stereotypes. O’Hara investigates further by visiting experienced comedian Stephen K Amos, who claims, “One of the singular properties of certain comedy ‘when done well’ is the freedom to explore ideas in an unconventional or counterintuitive way, to subvert society’s norms” (O’Hara 107). Based on Amos’ discourse, O’Hara asserts that comedy can provide new insights into social ailments – stereotypes – and cures them. She uses Amo’s action to validate John Fugelsang’s claim, “Humor can be a social corrective” (O’Hara 108). This sentence further proves O’Hara’s note that humor can bring different perspectives that help correct the mistaken stereotypes.

Though psychologist Gil Greengross agrees with O’Hara that comedy can bring unique information, he claims that humor does not change all the audiences’ biased views if they perceive these jokes differently. “The same joke can be funny or not, but can also be racist or not racist depending on who tells it and to whom” (Greengross 144). He implies that when people lack shared ideals with the comedians, the subsequent humor may fail to counter stereotypes. Drawing from experimental results, Greengross also concludes that comedy may not provoke audiences to hold against racists, who impose stereotypes on minority groups. “When we consider groups that most people discriminate against, and feel they are justified in doing so, disparaging humor towards that group does not foster discriminatory acts against them” (Greengross 143). He clarifies that humor can only show stereotypes rather than resisting them.

Philosopher Simon Critchley concurs with Greengross that shared context is essential for a joke to effect change. “There has to be a congruence between joke structure and social structure” (Critchley 123). However, he disagrees with the point that jokes do not effectively attack stereotypes. Based on the premise that a common identity is established, Critchley uses incongruity theory to explain how humor alter people’s perception about stereotypes. This theory states that the discrepancy between reality and the audience’s expectation generates laughter. Through making audiences laugh, Critchley asserts, “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley 126). He suggests that when a comedian jokes about stereotypes, the audience is informed and expects a joke that mirrors their stereotypical view. He then declares that as the comedian unveils the joke in an unconventional style, people’s expectation is popped, and they will break into laughter. “By laughing at power, we expose its contingency, we realize that what appeared to be fixed and oppressive is in fact the emperor’s new clothes” (Critchley 126). Critchley implies this moment as a shift in people’s view about stereotypes. When comedians lead audiences to this moment, these stereotypes, set up by the powerful, will seem to be ridiculous.

Comedian Negin Farsad’s jokes fit well with Critchley’s incongruity theory. She also refutes Greengross’ conception, demonstrating that joke tellers can accommodate people, dissolve the social barrier, and finally change people’s views toward stereotypes through surprising them. Viewing comedy as “a platform for advancing social justice” (O’Hara 106), Farsad bravely sets off on a grand mission to alleviate a stereotype regarding her own identity: Muslims do not denounce terrorism. To fight against this stereotype, Farsad, in her movie, The Muslims are Coming!, holds a comedy performance in Birmingham. At the beginning, she brings the audiences delicious foods. As people are attracted to the delicacies, Farsad identifies with these audiences, mockingly appreciating their tastes for foods (Farsad 17). When she brings people closer to her, she shifts the topic toward correcting the Muslim stereotype through the “name that religion” game. As she mentions a quotation that involves violence, people will expect it to come from the Quran. However, Farsad reveals that it comes from the Bible (Farsad 18). The audience, out of surprise, breaks into laughter. They come to realize that not all terrible things come from Islam. In this way, Farsad succeeds in reducing audiences’ stereotypes about Muslims.

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While Critchley and Farsad agree that humor can fight against stereotypes, Farsad has a more specific interpretation. “Comedy … makes you laugh. And when you’re laughing, you enter into a state of openness. And in that moment of openness … comedian can stick in a whole bunch of information” (Farsad 14). This explanation well serves as the philosophy for Farsad’s pursuit of justice: As she breaks audiences into laughter, they are more open to listen to the positive messages that Muslims are as good as anyone. Her method for eliminating stereotypes also verifies O’Hara’s quote from Sophie Quirk: “If you’re getting people together and talking about views that in the broader social context are quite marginal, and we’re all laughing together at those, then you’re kind of affirming them” (O’Hara 107). Therefore, Farsad ensures that when she identify with audiences, she can eventually disintegrate stereotypes.

To sum up, a meaningful humor is not just about making people laugh; it should have profound social effect. The conversation about humor’s ability to fight against stereotypes goes favorably. O’Hara, with her stakeholders’ support, concludes that humor can correct mistaken stereotypes by delivering ingenious thoughts. Greengross flips the conversation, noticing that common social identity is necessary for a joke teller to change people’s mind. Critchley mediates the controversy between O’Hara and Greengross, proposing incongruity theory to explain how humor alters people’s views about stereotypes based on shared context. While Farsad tells a joke that supports Critchley’s theory and counters Greengross’ points, she also confirms O’Hara’s belief in comedy’s social functions. Still, though we have understood that humor can fight against stereotypes, we should consider if humor can effect real political change in the same manner.

 

 

Works Cited

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”

Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131

Farsad, Negin. “Can Humor Fight Prejudice?” TED Radio Hour from NPR, 24 Mar. 2017,www.npr.org/2017/03/24/520942852/negin-farsad-can-humor-fight-prejudice.

Greengross, Gil. “Does Racist Humor Promote Racism?” Psychology Today, 18 July 2011, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/humor-sapiens/201107/does-racist-humor-promote-racism. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 142-144.

O’Hara, Mary. “A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016,www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,2017, pp. 104-111.

 

Acknowledgement

I greatly acknowledge the AWP program director and my instructor Dr. Karen Gocsik. She gave me comprehensive feedback in revising my first draft and second draft throughout the course, especially facilitating clear representation of the course readings. I am grateful for the curriculum coordinator Sarah Baker, who viewed my third draft, corrected citation errors and advised better synthetic strategy during the community office hour. I appreciate my mentor Sarah Ardell for raising suggestions about grammar and style in meeting sessions. I also thank my groupmates Flory and Shuli for enriching me through common reader response and group conference. The response helps me a lot when polishing the final paper.

Colbert’s humor – different outcomes

In his show Fallback Position, comedian Stephen Colbert interviews congresswoman Zoe Lofgren about “take our job, please” campaign. During the interview, Colbert employs great parody to argue for migrant farmers’ right. By imitating a conservative, he unveils people’s ridiculous flaws about these farmers, mirroring Lofgren’s authority. The jokes he applies fit incongruity theory: “The discrepancy between what people expect and what actually happen in the joke makes people laugh” (Critchley 122). By creating incongruence between Lofgren and himself, Colbert enables Lofgren to demonstrate that conservatives themselves cannot take the difficult jobs of migrant farmers. Though Colbert sensibly uses parody to defend migrant farmers in TV show, he fails to convince congressmen using the same strategy. Common ground theory, which states that people laugh if the joke teller shares mutual understanding with them, explains why Colbert flounders. He can easily persuade the public because they enjoy his entertaining satire. But in Capitol Hill congress, Colbert does not argue the same way other politicians do, confusing the congressmen about his real positions. His jokes also offend congressmen, who eventually reject his positions. Therefore, while political comedy is popular in TV because comedians share more common ground with the public, it fails to be powerful in political situations for their lack of mutual understanding with politicians.

Stephen Colbert effectively uses parody to encourage the public to support migrant farm workers’ right. He imitates a conservative to challenge migrant farm workers’ “take our job, please” campaign, which contends that immigrants are not stealing jobs from Americans. Suspicious about its motivation, Colbert investigates the campaign in an interview with “notorious Mexican hugger” Zoe Lofgren (The Colbert Report 01:28). In the interview, he frames a sharp contrast between Lofgren and his conservative self. While Lofgren disserts credible reasons to support migrant farm workers, Colbert’s parody reveals hilarious straw man fallacy. For example, as Colbert asks Lofgren why Americans do not want to be migrant farmers, Lofgren responds that this job is too tough. While Lofgren has robust reasoning, Colbert oversimplifies and attacks Lofgren’s point, questioning if she disparages Americans. Ph.D. student of political theory Ramon Lopez claims, “straw men … degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). Although Lofgren clarifies that “I’m never saying Americans are pussies” (The Colbert Report 02:16), Colbert escalates his straw man through cherry-picking Lofgren’s discourse: “Americans are pussies,” relentlessly attacking her argument. Hence, through presenting such conservative flaw, Colbert reflects Lofgren’s credibility, thereby convincing audiences to care about immigrant farm workers.

Colbert’s jokes during the interview can also be explained by philosopher Simon Critchley’s incongruity theory, which states that the difference between audiences’ expectation and the jokes’ reality creates laughter. Critchley claims that such jokes “bring about a change of situation, a transient but significant shift in the way we view reality” (Critchley 126). In the interview, Colbert posits that migrant workers should first make terror babies (The Colbert Report 03:30), showing that conservatives are too worried about immigrants’ control over the country. However, this conservative point is so susceptible that Lofgren can easily reject it by claiming its absurdity. As audiences, too, discern this casual argument, they break into laughter, realizing that immigrant farmers are not as threatening as Colbert thinks.

Though Colbert successfully uses parody to convince audiences in his TV show, he fails to manage his humor in Capitol Hill congress. Commonly, people who testify will directly state their points. Colbert holds that Americans should respect migrant workers, but he does not explicitly express his idea in the congress. “I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan in a spa, where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.” (C-SPAN 1:21). This sentence has so many nuances that it obfuscates Colbert’s true standing.

Common ground theory also speaks for Colbert’s failure in persuading politicians. This theory states that audiences can better get the jokes when they share more mutual understanding with the comedians. Indeed, Colbert manifests his common identity with the public; they enjoy his throw-in comic bits. But the congressmen address arguments more seriously, so they cannot easily understand Colbert’s jokes. Without mutual understanding, Colbert will not be supported. He will even be opposed because he targets politicians, “I trust that following my testimony, both sides will work together on this issue in the best interest of America, as you always do” (C-SPAN 5:06). Clearly, ending his testimony with this satire will not delight politicians to accept his points. As ABC News claims, “The hearing was on the use of illegal farmworkers to do work most Americans won’t do. He chided congress for not dealing with the issue” (ABC News 1:05). When congressmen are directly attacked, they will return the fire.

A good comedian ought to be flexible about his way of arguing. Colbert changes the public’s mind, but he does not change politicians’ thoughts about the illegal immigrants. How should a successful comedian testify in congress?

 

Works Cited

Colbert Humors, Annoys Congressmen.” YouTube, uploaded by ABC News, 24 Sept. 2010,www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTDCgOvVOx8.

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC SanDiego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

“C-SPAN: Stephen Colbert Opening Statement.” YouTube, uploaded by C-SPAN, 24 Sept. 2010,www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1T75jBYeCs.

“Fallback Position – Migrant Worker Pt. 1.” Comedy Central, uploaded by The Colbert Report,22 Sept. 2010, http://www.cc.com/video-clips/xr7q4y/the-colbert-report-fallback-position—migrant-worker-pt–1.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Discovery Draft: To what degree should we trust political humor?

In this essay I will raise a question and find a way through answering it. Many passages address political humor’s credibility issues: “Is comedy reliable?”. Some writers say “yes” because it “unveils the truth”, brings different perspectives, and some say “no” since it has “straw men”. So, I think “To what degree should we rely on political humor for information?” will be a good level-three question to consider about.

To begin with, I need someone to introduce the broad context. Ellis is a good choice. He uses a three-way dance metaphor to illustrate how politicians, media (mainstream and comedy), and the public interact with each other. While the public appreciate that mainstream media present politicians’ “spin” and “obfuscation”, comedy unveils the truth behind politicians and mainstream media’ “dance move”. In this point, I agree with Ellis in that he shows politicians and mainstream media are sometimes untrustworthy, and comedy is an authentic source of information. I can surround my main argument with this quote: “Whereas politicians wield humor in efforts to manipulate and spin, critical comedians, contrarily, seek to unmask, parade, and ridicule those efforts […] in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 154). This claim clearly distinguishes comedy from mainstream media, making it more truthful than news. But I would like to ask Ellis, does truth corresponds to reliability? [Comedy gives truth, but truth may not mean reliable.]

Marche notices that people are living in a post-truth generation in which they believe more in emotionally appealing information. He asserts political comedy and fake news are both emotionally appealing, so truth does not matter much to reliability. Still, this assertion agrees with O’Hara and Farsad that comedy, by making people laugh, can be trusted. What threatens comedy’s reliability, however, is that “it delights in tearing down institutions but is useless at constructing them” (Marche 165). This shows comedy creates bubbles, and discourages self-reflection. In other words, comedy only cherry-pick something worth laughing, so political humor may fail to be reliable if people do not get the information they need. But does it? Do we need all the uplifting good news? [Comedy gives truth and is emotionally appealing, but it may not give comprehensive information that we require.]

While thinking about the question, Lopez similarly claims that political humor has straw men and can “delegitimize the opposition” (Lopez 157). Lopez discerns comedy has such a logical fallacy that makes it more incredible. This fits with superiority theory, in which it addresses that comedians aim at things they oppose and make them appear laughable. Jon Stewart fall into this category; he derides things and take no responsibilities for them. However, I am skeptical about Lopez’s claim that political humor is always about delegitimizing. Mary O’Hara says, “it’s a relentelessly bleak and far from complete explanation of the purpose of humor” (O’Hara 105). Lopez and Marche both fail to address that Aziz Ansari uses his comedy to “build” racial equality. Besides, while some political comedies involve too much violation, the public themselves can assess political humor’s reliability: “If we find a joke offensive, we protest by not laughing at it” (O’Hara 107). Jon Stewart surely has a lot of audiences who enjoy laughing at his jokes, but he does require everyone to laugh; he just give the information that is critical of the times being. Olga Khazan also claims that “You can’t make a joke without inserting a wicked twist, and you can’t be a comedian without holding a small amount of power, for even a short period of time, over the audience” (Khazan 113). Comedy needs such a “dark element” to be reliable. Lopez also mistakenly cite Jon Stewart about his promotion of cynicism, so I encourage Lopez to understand more about Jon Stewart before writing about him. [Comedy gives truth, is emotionally appealing, and gives information worth thinking; it deals with critical issues; using straw men is OK, as long it does not offend too much.]

After dealing with counterarguments, I would like to strengthen my claims: Despite giving reliable information and making people laugh, comedy can also change the situation by integrating, unpacking, and bringing people with different perspectives. Samantha Bee is a prime example for this. She uses a lot of authentic sources to show the truth behind and people’s comments about the women’s march. By carefully selecting and interpreting the relevant sources, Samantha Bee engages the audiences to think: Why women’s march will happen? To what degree should we credit women’s rights for march, etc. She unites women and make them reconsider about their purpose of marching: They should march for women’s right, not for treats. In this sense Samantha Bee is not only reliable in terms of information; she is also reliable for being a sensible speaker for women’s right. [Political comedy is true, emotionally appealing, gives critical information, and can encourage the public to change the society.]

So here I come up with a tentative claim: While telling jokes that may fail to be logical, political humor is reliable because it unveils the truth, and encourages people to change the society by playing with [the most critical aspect of] social issues.

I think this claim is so far clear, address the main arguments, and shortly summarizes the conversation that I want to enter. On the class day I will discuss with my instructor, mentor, and groupmates to see if there’s anything that can be improved.

Works Cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012.www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings, pp. 150-155.

Khazan, Olga. “The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian.” Atlantic, 27 Feb. 2014,www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/02/the-dark-psychology-of-being-a-good-comedian/284104/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 112-115.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.

O’Hara, Mary. “A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016,www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,2017, pp. 104-111.

Can humor make a difference?

Political humor can prompt people to change the society by engaging them through different perspectives. Unlike most media, political comedy takes humor into account, and it opens people to the comedians’ thoughts, “What makes comedy so effective is that if you’re making them laugh along the way, they’re going to listen to the deeper cut stuff” (Farsad 13). As joke tellers gain the audiences’ trust, they can convey a lot of information, and let people be aware of the reality. “Arguably they offer a more open-minded and informed alternative, one which takes pride in digging for truths and in providing additional perspectives and points-of-view” (Ellis 151). Besides being a delivery system of truth, comedies can innovate the public’s thoughts and encourage them to participate in the social changes. While a lot of changes occur with blood and fire, political humor peacefully resolves the conflicts. As Jon Steward observes, “a joke has never ridden a motorcycle into a crow with a baton. A joke has never shot teargas to a group of people in a park. It’s just talk” (Taksler 42:30-43:00). In other words, a joke uses wit to overcome gruesome threats. Therefore, political humor benefits people with its open-mindedness, and deals with social problems in a subtler way.

Although comedians use humor to engage the audiences, some scholars point out the straw men of comedies that fail to consider the credibility of counterarguments, “Comedic straw men degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). It seems comedies always use these cheat tactics to win people’s heart. However, the straw men here are benign, because they are used for good purposes.

Works cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, http://www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

“Negin Farsad: Can Humor Fight Prejudice?” TED Radio Hour from NPR, 24 Mar. 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/03/24/520942852/negin-farsad-can-humor-fight-prejudice.

Tickling Giants. Directed by Sara Taksler, 2016.

Hodgepodge of humor conversation: Lopez, Marche, Ellis and McGraw & Warner

Overall Graphic designer

Lopez argues against Jon Steward to illustrate that political humor creates cynicism and apathy toward government, and comedians such as Steward do not clearly address political issues, but simply making fun of it. Marche, on the other hand, claims that political satire, though popular among social media, is not powerful enough to create desired changes, because it simply entertains the public.

The conversation is about to what extent does political satire change the society. Ellis, the guest of honor, generalizes from the various perspectives about political humor and points out that humor has become an inseparable part of our political life, and whether it has positive and negative effect on the population is worth debating. McGraw & Warner, the defenders for political comedy, posits that comedy is able to deliver the truth and engage people with additional insights. Lopez, in contrast, disagrees with McGraw & Warner by saying that political humor cherry-picks argument to make politicians and news systems appear silly without considering their positive sides. Marche flips the argument, positing that satire can only amuse people, but cannot change their thoughts.

I think comedy can bring positive change toward the politics, because it can address problems that others avoid talking about, and offer the audience different perspectives to view the reality. Besides, the audience are bored of news reports, and they need stimulating political satire to access information. “In representing the interests of the common man, in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 155). Comedians, in this way, can engage the audience into contemplating about political issues, and change their perceptions by joking.

 

Works Cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012,www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?”Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.

Analysis of the conversation in McGraw’s and Ellis’s articles

McGraw Graphic OrganizerEllis Graphic OrganizerPeter McGraw and Joel Warner, in the article The Humor Code, Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?, assert that humor, when used strategically, can greatly improve the society by engaging the public to politics. Iain Ellis, on the other hand, claims that political humor is basically an interplay among politicians, media, and the public. The public have gained great power in shaping the politics, and politicians need to play with humor to promote their positive self-images in different media.

I am interested McGraw’s point that humor can effect real political change. I agree with McGraw because he address some key premises for humor to change the society. He uses Popovic, an example which shows political humor works under optimal condition. Popovic’s jokes fit well with McGraw’s benign violation theory, which states that laughter arises when a joke makes something threatening appears funny, thus alleviating the fear of the audience. “People were afraid, and humor was useful in breaking that fear” (McGraw 148). By joking, Popovic embarrasses the president, and weakens his political power. Still, I wonder if satire that occurs in small country turns out to be more effective because it can spread out quickly over the nation. In this case, the counterargument somewhat makes sense in it addresses that joking in USSR is not effective enough to make big political change.

Works Cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, http://www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner.Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?” Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.

Response to Critchley’s and McGraw’s articles

In the essay Did You Hear the One about the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humor?, Simon Critchley draws evidence from experts in humor to claim that laughter arises when joke tellers surprise the audiences by giving a twist to the jokes. But besides the laughter, the jokes can change the way people think through a different viewpoint about the things inside a joke. This leads to incongruity theory, which states humor can shift people’s perception from unexpected incidences. In the first time I read this essay, I mixed relief theory with incongruity theory because they both determine that humor can make people laugh by popping tensions. Now I know that incongruity theory addresses that humor is not merely about relieving tension; it can suddenly change the way people think through this surprise. Also, I come to understand for incongruity to function effectively, a common background is required, though common background theory mainly stresses that the extent to which people have shared identities with the joke tellers can affect people’s reactions to the jokes. I reannotated this sentence, “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley126). Before the annotation, I think this is the gist for incongruity theory, but it actually shows a specific ideal situation in which incongruity theory well explains humor’s function in changing the society. Peter McGraw also contributes his answer to this issue, but in a different perspective.

Peter McGraw, on his article The Humor Code, Entry 1: What Exactly Makes Something Funny?, asserts that things are funny when joke tellers bring up something that’s threatening at a first glance, and then get the audiences laugh by making it appear safe. This assertion furnishes benign violation theory. McGraw draws from various experimental data to support benign violation theory, and he also uses counterargument to show why other theories fail to generalize humor’s ability to make people laugh. In the reannotated sentence, “Why do we laugh and derive amusement from so many different things, from puns to pratfalls? Why are some things funny to some people and not to others? How is that while a successful joke can cause pleasure, a gag gone awry can cause serious harm?” (McGraw132), I realized that these motivating questions, in addition to leading to benign violation theory, are really worth thinking about throughout the AWP class.

From the questions above, I see that the major debate between Critchley and McGraw is about which theory better explains what makes things funny. In short words, Critchley thinks that humor makes the silly serious, while McGraw views the opposite way. But going deeper into the simple sentence, I should be careful about the way jokes are told. A joke may address something that seems fixed and unnecessary to talk about, but when it makes the audience rethink about the ostensibly “silly” issue, incongruity theory comes into play. On the other hand, a joke may mention something that is seriously malicious, but as it flips the dark side, making this thing acceptable, benign violation theory seems perfect for explaining this joke. Nevertheless, both Critchley and McGraw agree that people with different backgrounds will react differently to certain jokes. This agreement makes me contemplate the role common ground theory plays in humor.

 

Works Cited

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Entry 1: What, Exactly, Makes Something Funny?” Slate, 23Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/what_makes_something_funny_a_bold_new_attempt_at_a_unified_theory_of_comedy.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 132-135.

Comedy Presentation Plan

Our group will present our support for Dave Chappelle to be invited to the university. We will summarize his comedy first to ensure our classmates know what Chappelle is talking about. Then, by providing three reasons, we will analyze how his jokes work well. Among the three reasons, we will also provide counterarguments of Samantha Bee and Aziz Ansari to explain why the two comedians should not be invited.

Summary: In the stand up, Chappelle first shortly discusses Trump’s election and infer to him as “internet troll”. He mentions the riots in Oregon, which are for protesting Trump’s election. Using the event as a transition, he jokes about black people that watch the riots are saying amateurs. The joke is based on stereotype people have toward blacks that they are violent and are good at creating riots. After introducing the stereotype, he argues against it through jokes about Shooting (at Pulse, a gay night-club, a repressed gay proclaim loyalty to ISIS before he shot) and wu tang clan (Chappelle says that if he has sex with a girl and shout out wu tang does not mean he is in wu tang clan). Through these two jokes, Chappelle demonstrates that even though some of the blacks are violent, not all of them are. After explaining stereotype toward blacks, Chappelle states black lives matters and argues for African American rights. At the end, Chappelle appeals to “give Trump a chance” even though he might not be a good president in protester’s view, for the same reason that white people may not be in favor of blacks have given them equal rights and should treat them equally.

Reason 1: Most of the students are liberal and Dave considers different political opinions. Chapelle first builds common ground between for his white audiences to stand with him. Knowing most of the audiences are protesters of Trump, Chappelle describes Trump as “Internet troll”(1’29’’) in the very beginning of comedy to let audiences know that they are all against Trump. As a university in the California, most of students in the campus are liberal and is against Trump. Chapelle offers the common ground that the students can stand on and engage with the joke.

He also will not offend conservative people (even though they are minority in campus, we do care about their feeling). He claims to “give Trump a chance” at the end of his comedy that shows his support for Trump.

So that is also the reason why we don’t choose Samantha Bee. Because Bee is totally against Trump. Her political opinion and radical attitude towards Trump may offend some conservative students.

Reason 2: Reduce university students’ prejudice toward the black. In the university, sometimes students will also hold stereotype towards black students. Chappelle’s comedy show reduces stereotype they have towards blacks and comfort the black students.

In the comedy show, Chappelle makes a joke to illustrate his claim that not all of the black people are violent and not all of the violence is done by blacks (2:34-3:00).

The joke tells about the shooting event: a gay made a shooting at Pulse. Chappelle makes people laugh at incongruity theory. Based on the common ground people have that ISIS is not gay, Chappelle jokes about ISIS using Grinder, a social networking app for gay, that makes audiences burst out laughing. By pointing out the incongruence, Audiences accept that shooter is not ISIS when they are laughing. Through the joke, Chappelle demonstrates that even though ISIS has done many shootings, not all shootings are done by ISIS, even though some black people are violent, not all violence is done by the black. So, people shouldn’t connect black people with violence together.

Then, Chappelle talks about Obama to claim that black people can also be friendly and respected. All the audience applaud and cheer up when he said Obama has done a good job. (pictures) By reminding the audience of former president Obama as a black, Chappell successfully makes people aware that black people can also become the one everyone admired.

So, the comedy show and the university share the same value in racial equality. When Chappelle’s show is brought to the university, it will be welcomed because his joke reduces the stereotype students have towards the black and will be aware that black people are not that kind of people who only do violence.

Reason 3: Offend people appropriately. Chappelle offends policemen by creating jokes about them. But this offense is appropriate because it only refutes policemen’s discrimination. So, this does not violate university’s principles of community. It also defends black people’s rights, which is embraced by the university.

A commonsense in the world is that people’s life matters more than animals. That’s why policemen shoot a gorilla in a local zoo when it threatens a child. However, Dave Chappelle challenges policemen by saying black people will be in “gorilla costume” to protect themselves (3:56-4:01). This joke implies that police cares more about gorilla than black people.

Then, Dave Chappelle posits that policemen usually shoot innocent black people because they think black people are violent. Though the policemen respond Blue Lives Matter to defend their shooting behavior, Chappelle tells a joke that makes the slogan nonsensical (4:24-4:46).

In this joke, Chappelle uses incongruity theory to argue for Black Lives Matter. He first speaks for the congruence for the two “Life Matters” slogans, then he makes the audience realize that Black and Blue are virtually different: Black is a congenital skin color, but Blue is an external suit. Chappelle shows that if he can take off the skin color, he will not be black, and he is “out of the game”. But that’s impossible. Only policemen can take off their suit to quit being blue. So, Chappelle sensibly offends policemen by deriding their reasoning for shooting black people. He also testifies that police should stop hurt them because they are black.

On the other hand, Aziz Ansari does not address offense aptly. Although both Ansari and Chappelle support equal rights, Ansari exclusively argues against white people, since only they can perform racism. This offense is not appropriate in terms of university standards because he may offend white students.

 

Work Cited

“Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Monologue – SNL.” YouTube, uploaded by Saturday Night Live, 13 Nov. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–IS0XiNdpk&t=227s.

Analysis of Aziz Ansari’s Anti-Racist Comedy

After president Trump’s inauguration, racists started to disparage minorities. To defend the minorities, host Aziz Ansari, in a Saturday Night Live show, performs his stand-up comedy. He argues against racism using the incongruity theory, which states that humor can change the way people think by breaking tension. The audience grow tense as he talks about the lower case kkk movement, that tends to rationalize racism. But when he makes fun of racists, the audience realize that the movement is ridiculous. Ansari proceeds his argument through broaching people’s fear of Muslims. To alleviate discrimination against them, he applies benign violation, a theory that says, “humor arise when something seems wrong and threatening but is completely safe” (McGraw 133). He reveals how people fear about Muslims, and then jokes about these people of their nonsensical fear. Finally, by glorifying former president George Bush’s anti-racist action and consoling the minorities, Ansari scorches the racists and urges Trump to upend racism. Although Ansari offends racists, who support Trump, he confesses, at the beginning, that people should respect them in terms of political opinions. He tells a joke that compares Trump to the popular singer Chris Brown. This joke makes Ansari’s humor successful by creating a common ground, in which people share the understanding of Chris Brown’s music. This common ground helps Ansari to be more understandable and inoffensive. Though he continues offending racists, he gains support from the audience, making the offense worth.

Regarding racism as a serious issue, Aziz Ansari begins his defense of minorities with a statement, “I’m talking about a tiny slice of people that have gotten way too fired up about the Trump thing for the wrong reasons.” (02:30-02:36). Ansari harnesses this statement to shift the audience’s focus toward the lower case kkk movement, and he uses humor to address this problem through implementing incongruity: He stresses the audience by imitating how racists excitedly claim they do not have to pretend to be non-racists. Then, by interrupting the lines, “If you’re one of these people, please go back to pretending” (02:51-02:57), Ansari breaks the audience’s tension and attacks those aggressive racists. He continues the attack through deriding their rationale. “They see me. Trump won, go back to … where you came from. Yeah. They’re not usually geography buffs” (03:53-04:03). Ansari tells this joke to discompose racists, making them laughable instead of intimidating. He proves Critchley’s note that, incongruity creates laughter, and “by laughing at power, we expose its contingency, we realize that what appeared to be fixed and oppressive is in fact the emperor’s new clothes” (Critchley 126). Ansari sensibly uses incongruity to satirize racists, and succeeds in changing the audience’s view about them. He also testifies Mary O’Hara’s belief about humor’s social functions, “Satire is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” (O’Hara 106). Ansari employs this belief to signify that lower case kkk movement makes minorities unsafe. But through satire, he balances the feelings of all the people.

Indeed, Ansari accomplishes refuting racists, making them embarrassed of their irrational actions. But to truly extinguish racism, Ansari should ensure that people are comfortable with minorities. To do this, Ansari leads the audience to another part of his problem, “A lot of people haven’t interacted with any brown people in normal life” (04:57-05:03), and demonstrates that brown people deserve being treated equally. He pokes fun at Muslims by applying benign violation theory, which states that humor makes things funny when the unsafe becomes safe. He first introduces most people’s feelings, “Any time they watch movies, TV shows and a character is Arabic, praying or something that scary music from ‘homeland’ is underneath it. It’s terrifying” (05:50-06:02). This sentence unsettles the audience because of their fear of Muslims. However, as he mocks Muslims, making it appears funny, the audience break into laughter and their fear toward Muslims wanes. According to Olga Khazan, “You can’t make a joke without inserting a wicked twist, and you can’t be a comedian without holding a small amount of power, for even a short period of time, over the audience” (Khazan 113). Ansari broaches Muslims to terrify the audience, gaining him the power to reveal the unsettling truth. Then, as he grasps the power, he shifts the atmosphere and progressively lessens their anxiety through humor. Eventually, he makes people laugh, and they realize that the fear is unnecessary.

After using humor to convince people that racism is absurd, Ansari, with a more emphatic attitude, furthers that president Trump should make a speech denouncing lower case kkk (06:32-06:40). Ansari employs George Bush, a former president of United States, to illustrate what a real president should do: After 9/11, Bush made a speech to denounce terrorists, and clarified that they do not represent Islam. Ansari appreciates Bush speaking for his argument, and uses delightful tone to praise Bush, “He guided us with his eloquence!” (07:44-08:00). Ansari harnesses this tone to empower the minorities, who are disappointed about Trump’s inauguration. He also consoles them by asserting, “If you look at our history, change doesn’t come from president. Change comes from large groups of angry people” (08:17-08:29) He uses this statement to encourage minorities to fight against racism if it still prevails.

So far, Ansari has provided a sounding argument against racism by using humor. Though his jokes offend racists, Ansari identifies with them at the beginning of the comedy. He points out that people should not disparage racists, part of the voters for Trump, and gives credit to them through a shared common ground, that is, knowing the popular singer Chris Brown. Chris Brown’s music has some characteristics that receive different comments from the population, and Ansari applies analogy to compare him with Trump, “Donald Trump is basically the Chris Brown of Politics” (01:54-02:01). Ansari acknowledges that people should respect others even if they hold different political standing. He also admits that split in political opinions, compared to racism, is not a big deal, “As long as we treat each other with respect and remember we are all Americans it will be fine” (02:14:02:20). From this sentence, he can distinguish between political conflict and racism; though Ansari offends racists later, he accomplishes in justifying his arguments against them.

In conclusion, Ansari presents a compelling comedy that targets toward racism. Though he explicitly discusses Trump’s inauguration and motivates people to respect Trump supporters, Ansari disagrees with racists, whom he offends through humor. He applies the incongruity theory to ridicule their reckless discrimination against minorities during the lower case kkk movement. By doing this, Ansari changes the audience’s view about the racists, making them appear funny. He also uses benign violation theory to tell people that interacting with minorities is fine. Finally, Ansari regards George Bush as a model against racism to persuade Trump to take similar actions. Should the racism still exist, Ansari encourages the minorities to defeat racism on their own.

 

Works Cited

“Aziz Ansari Stand-Up Monologue – SNL.” YouTube, uploaded by Saturday Night Live, 22 Jan.2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whde50AacZs.

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC SanDiego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

Khazan, Olga. “The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian.” Atlantic, 27 Feb. 2014,www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/02/the-dark-psychology-of-being-a-good-comedian/284104/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 112-115.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Entry 1: What, Exactly, Makes Something Funny?” Slate, 23Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/what_makes_something_funny_a_bold_new_attempt_at_a_unified_theory_of_comedy.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 132-135.

O’Hara, Mary. “A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016,www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,2017, pp. 104-111.

 

Acknowledgement

I am grateful for my instructor Dr. Gocsik for facilitating me to write analysis effectively. I also appreciate my mentor Sarah for giving suggestions to my focus on the essay. My groupmates Flory and Shuli provide common reader responses and rhetorical analyses to help me revise the essay sensibly.